Saturday, August 12, 2017

Two Down Under Views on Marriage, note from England

So, over in the West Island, things are reaching boiling point re whether there will or will not be a postal referendum, referendum, parliamentary bill, agreed to by senate or not, on, you know, that thing we in NZ actually managed to decide in a comparatively peaceful and orderly manner, same-sex marriage. But this is not time to boast. [That can wait till next Saturday night :).] Frankly, I am a bit confused. I think I understand one point: proponents of same-sex marriage are against a referendum on the matter, but not because a referendum (postal or otherwise) will go against change to the status quo, but because the accompanying debate will be full of homophobia.

Anyway, any Ozzie light shed on the matter of the politics of same-sex marriage, is welcome here, but what I do see in the public domain are two presentations on marriage, the existence of both views highlighting that Australian Christians are not agreed on what constitutes marriage.

One is by Jason Goroncy, a Baptist/Presbyterian theologian: A Christian theology of marriage.

The other is by Michael Jensen: I oppose same-sex marriage (and no, I am not a bigot).

I am citing these articles here, partly for possible future reference, partly because they represent for me some fine, careful Christian thinking about marriage. Yet, in my view, neither is completely satisfactory! Briefly, Goroncy omits discussion of Genesis 1-2; Jensen does not recognise the possibility that there is a distinction between 'contractual' marriage and 'conjugal' marriage, which in turn means it is possible for parliaments to change the terms of the former (as it often does re any law concerning contracts) while leaving untouched the permanent terms of the latter. (See, e.g. this book).

Finally, a note from the Church of England, from the Church of England Evangelical Council in particular, via Thinking Anglicans, here. Clearly some positioning is going on with respect to how the future might work out, following the recent General Synod of the CofE, which somewhat meekly bent itself in a progressive direction without, seemingly, much resistance from conservatives.


Father Ron Smith said...

As Jason Goroncy states here, Peter, the subject of our discourse - human marriage - is for this world only. "There will be marriage in Heaven". So all of the protestations about human marriage are of little eternal significance, surely. Therefore, the companionship that human marriage provides - which is only a shadow of the 'Marriage Feast of The Lamb', can hardly be thought of as an essential qualification for eternal life. Otherwise, every single human being would be committed to become married.

Jesus never married, so obviously marriage is not essential part of the common human condition (Jesus was FULLY human, was he not?).

Instead, Jesus did speak about 3 types of eunuch: (1)for the 'sake of the Kingdon' - surely the highest state; (2) because of the action of others - castrati, and (3) - from their mother's womb - gay or a-sexual.

So; salvation is not ALL about the status of marriage, and, therefore, maybe not a first order doctrinal factor in Christian doctrine.

Andrei said...

Sorry Peter but that first link is making the argument by obfuscation in or in other words double talk

There is absolute clarity in the assessment of reality found in Genesis Chapter 1 Verses 27-28

27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

28 And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

Now I know that in the post modern West we are now up to 29 different genders or sexual orientations or whatever and counting but if you were to go into the jungle and find tribesmen without any previous contact with the west and read them those two verses they would grasp them immediately because they would reflect their reality which is actual reality that is men and women bond to one another and have children

And every single one of us without exception are the product of a male and female coupling

The utter banality of this issue in a world where a significant proportion of our fellow human beings struggle to obtain enough nourishment to sustain life, a world filled with injustice, cruelty and violent death is something continues to astonish me

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Andrei
I agree.
I think the most we can get to when talking about same-sex marriage (defined by civil law) is a theology of marriage-like relationships of people of the same sex.
Meanwhile, as you note, people are dying of starvation, and North Korea might nuke the Pacific before the end of the month.

Anonymous said...

Father Ron, the argument to which you are replying is a slippery one!

For clarity and without comment, I outline just two of many alternative versions of it here. Some who argue it may recognise one of them as their own. Others may post their own outlines of it.


To any given soul, the only first order question is "how can I be saved?"

Epistemically, the church stands in the same place as that soul-- (a) it has the same first order question; (b) it has no further source for an authoritative answer.

The NT says that one cannot be saved if one approves of certain sins.

Therefore the church cannot be saved if it approves those sins.

A church that is all unsaved is not the Church but a simulacrum.

A church, which is in any case a mix of the saved and the unsaved, can become a body of the all unsaved if it degenerates into a simulacrum.

The only safe course for either a soul or a church is to flee the approval of the enumerated sins.


Our only god is the Creator; we follow only Him.

Jesus was raised from the dead, ascended into heaven, sits on the Father's right hand, will judge the living and the dead, and rules an everlasting kingdom.

Jesus's Resurrection inaugurated a renewed creation; to be saved is to participate in that renewal, both in this aeon and the next; to be unsaved is to live and die without renewal in Him.

The believing witnesses to the Resurrection are the apostolic fellowship. They bear witness to both the fact and the meaning of the event. Jointly and severally, they are exemplars in this aeon of the renewing of the creation that will be completed in the next aeon.

The apostolic fellowship persists through time in order to visibly represent humanity participating in the renewal of all things in sole dependence on Christ.

The action of God's resurrecting Word in the apostolic fellowship is the only thing that enables this visible participation.

The Holy Spirit has consecrated the scriptures so that they act in that renewal as the Word always has (cf Genesis, Isaiah). In particular, the Holy Spirit uses the Word written to create, sustain, and govern the apostolic fellowship.

Exclusive fidelity to the Creator entails the apostolic fellowship's calling to exclusive fidelity to the Word.

If a local community takes initiatives apparently apart from the Word or apparently contrary to the Word, then it is no longer participating in the visible renewal of all things through dependence on Christ. Such a community has adopted a second god of some kind and necessarily fades from the apostolic fellowship that has visible fellowship with Christ.

The male/female binary is observed to be immanent in the creation, and is known from the Word that created it to be good.

The Word written proposes the evident renewal of this part of the creation, both in this aeon and in the aeon to come. Conversely, the Word written does not evidently propose any dissolution of the male/female binary.

Therefore, initiatives toward such dissolution have no part in the life that the apostolic fellowship receives from God.

According to the scriptures of ancient Israel, such initiatives must be the proposal of a foreign god. Those who follow a foreign god are not evidently participating in the Creator's renewal of all things, have faded from the apostolic fellowship, and are not saved.

* * *

Readers will have noticed a few things at once.

These outlines are enthymemes, not proofs.

There is more than one scriptural path to each point.

These outlines come from different, and subtly opposing, streams of Anglican evangelicalism.

Outlines so bare as these can be filled out in the imagination in several ways, some more orthodox than others.

Bowman Walton

David Wilson said...

It seems to me that the fundamental question is not mentioned in either article. It is this: why does the state privilege some relationships with ceremonies, a change of state and changes in areas such as taxation, and why does the Church also privilege certain relationships with related changes? The answer is not 'love'. There are many loving committed relationships which do not involve sexual activity and which are not celebrated by anything analogous to marriage. (One such relationship can be seen bewteen the disabled athlete and her christian friend which was referenced in this blog recently). A closer answer is 'sex'. But this is also not satisfactory. Goroncy seems to be saying that (sexual) desire is legitimated by marriage. But is all sexual desire legitimated by commitment? I think we would all agree that there are sexual desires which could never be legitimate. The question is simply which can be and which cannot be. Also, this answer also seems to ignore that intimacy and committment do not need sexual activity. Family relationships are an obvious place for committment without sex. The loss of regard for intimacy in close friendships is a significant loss to our western culture.

The only satisfactory answer as to the historical roots of marriage is this: "children". Jensen at least mentions this area, but almost seems to say that children are a byproduct of marriage, which would have it the other way round. The fact is that the normal state of affairs is that when a man and woman have sex, children often result.

Sexual desire is rooted in our earthy nature, and the telos is procreation, not recreation. For the sake of the children of the physical union, it is a significant benefit if the parents stick together. Therefore, the binding that takes place in sexual intimacy is, at least, partly for this. Marriage is a way that the state facilitates this care of children.

As Peter points out, Gen 1-2 is important. "Male and female" has the context of being fruitful and multiplying. The man "leaves, cleaves and becomes one flesh". I have seen the argument that the "one flesh" is more that simply the physical joining; it is the creation of a new kinship group, of which the product of the union will be members.

So, it is not surprising that the state and the Church have surrounded this most significant of relationships with the honour and privileges called 'marriage'. The 1662 BCP is clear on this, in its ordering of the reasons for marriage:

...duly considering the causes for which Matrimony was ordained.

First, It was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name.

Secondly, It was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ's body.

Thirdly, It was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity. Into which holy estate these two persons present come now to be joined.

Father Ron Smith said...

David Wilson's final comments deserve a response. In his reiteration of the Church's statement about the 3 purposes of marriage, he quotes as follows:

(1) Procreation.

Response: Not all heterosexual marriages are either capable or willingly contracted for this purpose, but are still considered valid by the Church.

(2) Remedy against 'sin'.

Response: (a) if heterosexual intercourse is not directed to procreation, then it can only be thought of as recreational. Is this sinful ?

Response: (b) Not all Christians would agree that the Pauline prohibition against same-sex relationships was related to anything other than the Greco-Roman practice of prostitution and orgiastic rites - and had nothing to do with today's understanding of faithful, monogamous, same-sex committed relationships.

(3) Mutual comfort and commitment

Response: Both hetero- and homo-sexual relationships have the capacity to avoid the prevalent culture of adulterous dalliances. Both are capable of helping to stabilize the societies in which they are contracted. Both can reflect the love of God in human beings.

Modern understanding of the variety of the human biological condition - as it relates to gender and sexuality - demands a fresh response from the Church, based on both cultural and theological research into the basic human needs of each and every created image and likeness of the Creator.

Father Ron Smith said...

Dear Bowman, my only answer to your argument here about the 'saved' and the 'unsaved' is that this is surely God's business. We humans have no power to save a single soul. We are incapable of saving even our own soul. Jesus Christ is the only agency of redemption and not even the Church can claim that charism. . Clearly Christ's action is our only justification, having given his life "For the World" not just Christians. The Church is an agency of redemption; not the Redeemer!

It is worth noting Jesus' own response to the question of sin and salvation in the parable of the Publican (the Righteous) and the Sinner (Unrighteous) in His challenge to His hearers: "Who do you think went away justified?"

Andrei said...

In answer to Fr Ron

"(1) Procreation.

Response: Not all heterosexual marriages are either capable or willingly contracted for this purpose, but are still considered valid by the Church."

It is assumed that all hetrosexual marriages are capable of procreation and we have at least two examples in Scripture of marriages long considered to be barren producing children Abraham and Sarah producing Isaac, Zechariah and Elizabeth the parents of John the Baptist

In fact the non consummation of marriage is grounds for annulment both in canon and civil law - the birth of the Anglican Church is intimately tied up in the question of whether or not the marriage of Prince Arthur and Katherine of Aragon was consummated

And as an aside that raises the question of how you determine the consummation of a "same sex marriage"?

As for the rest Fr Ron - your "modern understanding of..." narrative is just that a self serving narrative to support a political position.

"modern understandings" are always subject to revision, they are creatures of their times

The whole point of marriage has always been to assign the rights and responsibilities regarding the children born from that marriage

And you know something else Fr Ron, the popularity of genealogy arises from the fact that people want to know who their forebears were to understand who they are whereas "same sex marriages" that produce children usually deliberately obscure the family origins of their offspring

I am amazed how silent the feminists are over rich Western homosexuals exploiting the bodies of vulnerable poor women in the third world to carry children conceived in petri dishes for them to create the modern family with all knowledge of their offspring's maternal family heritage obliterated

Anonymous said...

Father Ron, the argument I twice outlined explains why some withdraw from churches that they believe to be in error on That Topic. That is, they are concerned for their own salvations, not with judging others.

David Wilson is right. On your replies--

(1) The stronger form of the argument Wilson makes is that belief in the first article of the creeds warrants the believer's compliance with the teleology of sex found in nature. Whether one believes Genesis, Darwin, or both, the telos is procreation. Conversely, to disregard that teleology is to flout the Father's will.

Your reply is an is/ought fallacy. We cannot infer from what people do to what God wants them to do. Indeed, for most Anglicans worldwide, a leap from our practise to God's will has no rhetorical power.

(2a) Sex is procreative enough if it sustains the relationship that enables the nurture of children. There is no reason to follow Aristotle's biology when we have contemporary primate ethology and interpersonal neurobiology.

(2b) More elegantly: even if it would be best for homosexuals to avoid sex altogether, why would it not be good for them to at least avoid uncommitted sex?

(3) Genesis 2:18.

Bowman Walton

Father Ron said...

Interestingjly, Bowman; Paul, in one instance, pronounces himself willing to surrender his own salvation if only this would guarantee the salvation of others (his fellow
Jewa). How different this from being concerned for one's own salvation!

Anonymous said...

"So; salvation is not ALL about the status of marriage..."

Clearly, it isn't. Jesus was celibate; St Paul commended celibacy above marriage.

"...and, therefore, maybe not a first order doctrinal factor in Christian doctrine."

Evangelicals on the other side do not frame their thoughts on That Topic in terms of a prioritised list of doctrines. Rather, before any doctrinal reflection, they read in scripture that sexual sin-- and even approval of sexual sin-- cuts one off of the true Vine. That makes proposals to enlist them in approving of gay sex an obvious existential threat. And as it is in scripture, there is no higher authority to which they can turn for relief.

As I have noted here before, this argument reprises the central argument of the conservative Reformation: prior to all doctrinal reflection, believers can read in the scriptures that salvation is forfeited by the belief that one has won it by any work that one has oneself done. The Church in the medieval West actually endangered the salvation of the faithful by proposing works that lead to salvation. And as the threat is in scripture, there was no higher authority to which they can turn.

"For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh." Romans 9:3, ESV.

Yes, this is a fascinating sentence! No, St Paul is never boring. But evangelical opponents of SSB probably hear you suggesting to them that they should leap into hell so that gay folk can have sex and then go to hell themselves.

Bowman Walton

Jonathan said...

One possible sub-option for "A" may be for the Diocese to offer to commit $X million for a rebuild on the condition that the balance, including cost over-runs, be covered by other funders. Otherwise the diocesan would presumably be making a definite commitment to an undefined amount. (Peter, feel free to not post this if it's already been suggested!)

Father Ron Smith said...

"The whole point of marriage has always been to assign the rights and responsibilities regarding the children born from that marriage" - this sounds suspiciously like a circular argument.

re Bowman's argument, thus: "(2a) Sex is procreative enough if it sustains the relationship that enables the nurture of children." -

This can easily be carried out within the context of children adopted by a same-sex couple. The quality of nurture is the same.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Father Ron, for engaging the procreative heart of scriptural teaching on marriage (eg Genesis 1:28 and 2:18). I hope that others also notice that you have moved the discussion onto much more interesting ground.

Andrei would have been clearer if he had said that recorded *solemnisations* are "to assign the rights and responsibilities regarding the children born from that marriage." In the West-- the East is different-- that is historically true. After the first millennium, recorded public weddings on the church steps replaced the family weddings of our barbarian ancestors as a check on rape, incest, bigamy, abandonment, etc. In that age, it took the degrees, the banns, the public location, the questions, and the register together to certify the existence of a responsible couple. Only the Church had the staff, building, and social influence to do all this, and doing it was her single most successful social reform. But the whole arrangement is obsolete where bureaucratic states keep vital statistics, issue identity cards, license marriages, etc. If they want to follow Romans 12, late modern churches should stop pretending to duplicate what late modern states do much better. Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's.

Thus, the whole debate over SSB is confused by its ignorance. The case that that proponents have actually proven is not for a new sacrament but for abolition of an otiose legal procedure that some today find hurtful. Opponents, for their part, have not explained what actual scriptural good weddings still do that preaching and teaching from the Word cannot do better. Happy warriors fight because Satan has given them self-righteous contempt for others and the Holy Spirit has not yet given them self-control.

ACANZP's *beautiful compromise* might best be used to phase solemnisation out in parishes that would rather develop something actually scriptural and helpful. Personally, I favour house-blessings somewhat like those of the Orthodox because congregational prayer in the places where people live helps them to integrate God into their daily lives. Bosco doubtless has some resources for this.

Meanwhile, Father Ron, are you suggesting that, before or after a couple-- same-sex or straight-- has legally adopted a child, their nurture of the child should be ceremonially blessed by the Church in a rite distinct from either weddings or baptism? In BCP 1979, TEC replaced the Churching of Women with Thanksgiving for the Birth or Adoption of a Child (TFC). So far as I know, any baptised couple with legal custody of the child may ask for it. And I have never heard of a priest, no matter how implacably opposed to SSM, refusing to lead Thanksgiving for... a Child (TFC) because of the composition of the presenting couple.

Bowman Walton